Your Journey to a Handstand Push-up: Part 2

With any new skill, it is important to first focus on building a solid foundation and then advance slowly through each progression. In part one of Your Journey to a Handstand Push-up, we began by building the foundation for your bent-arm strength and balance with the headstand.

Once you have spent time building your stabilizers in the bent-arm position and feel comfortable balancing upside down, you can move one step closer to the handstand push-up (HSPU) by following the progressions below to build your straight-arm strength. Adding each of these progressions into your training will continue to increase your balance and strengthen your shoulder stabilizers.

Getting Started

Prior to kicking up into a handstand, I recommend assessing your skill level with each progression listed below so you can determine your starting point.

The set-up for each progression requires these important points:

  1. Hands placed approximately shoulder width apart with fingers pointed forward
  2. Elbows locked
  3. Shoulders over elbows forming a straight column down to your wrist
  4. Neutral neck with crown of head pointing toward the ground
  5. Eyes looking forward, not looking down between your hands
  6. Hips stacked over your shoulders

Progression 1: Stacked Pike Hold

Stacked Pike Hold Progression

We begin our pike holds on the ground to allow you to practice the set-up listed above. This also allows you to spend some time learning the stacked body position prior to loading a larger percentage of your bodyweight on your arms. Time under tension is important here, as well as flexible hamstrings. If your hamstrings are too tight to achieve a fully stacked body position you can modify to a straddle leg position.

Stacked Pike Straddle Hold

Progression 2: Elevated Stacked Pike Hold

Elevated Stacked Pike Hold

By elevating your feet on a box you advance these holds because you are now stabilizing a heavier percentage of your bodyweight on your arms. Each of the setups steps from above still apply. This step allows you to make greater strength gains while also eliminating the fear of falling over. Then tension required to stack your body will strengthen your core and balance your body prior to kicking up into a full handstand and possibly hyperextending your lumbar spine.

Progression 3: Elevated Stacked Pike with Shoulder Taps

By training your shoulder taps in a feet-elevated pike position, you will be learning to shift from hand to hand under less load than if you went straight to handstand shoulder taps. Here is the sequence to successfully set-up and begin practicing these shoulder taps:

  1. Elevate your feet to an appropriate height for your current strength and flexibility level.
  2. Stack your hips directly over your shoulders.
  3. Place your hands directly under your shoulders with elbows locked.
  4. Focus your eyes forward on the box that is elevating your feet.
  5. Maintain core tension and slowly unload one hand and raise it slightly off the ground.
  6. Place your hand back on the ground and repeat the move with the opposite hand.

As you become more comfortable with this movement and are able to do it without shifting your whole body, then you can raise the non-loaded hand higher and tap the shoulder of the down arm. Then, repeat on the opposite side.

Note: By this point in your journey you have probably realized that flexible wrists are important, so don’t neglect stretching your wrists and fingers when handstand progressions are in your training program.

Progression 4: Wall Handstand Holds

We are now progressing to a full handstand, and there are two option that are most often used to get set-up on the wall for holds or taps:

 

 

After building up some time in your wall handstand hold, you can begin to work the weight shift as we did in Progression 3. Only now, you’ll do this with a heavier load—your entire body weight.

Maintain your core tension and slightly unload one hand, then the either. As you become stronger and more skilled in the weight shift and are able to do it without moving your body from side to side, you can raise the hand higher and begin to practice shoulder taps.

How to Train Your HSPU Progression

After assessing your strength and skill level in the above progressions, you can select the appropriate progression to begin your grease-the-groove (GTG) training. After a few weeks of GTG training, retest your strength for a new max set at this progression—but remember to stop just short of failure. At this time, you can program rep/sets using your max set as a guide. Every several weeks, retest your max set and advance accordingly.

By practicing and patiently progressing you will be setting the groundwork for a solid HSPU in your future. Once you’re ready, check out the third and final article in this Journey to a Handstand Push-up series. And if you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check out Your Journey to a Handstand Push-up: Part 1.

Karen Smith
Chief SFB, Master SFG

Karen Smith is Chief SFB instructor, a Master SFG instructor, and the fourth woman to claim the Iron Maiden title. She has been personal training students of all fitness levels from beginners to elite US military forces since 2000. Karen specializes in kettlebell and bodyweight strength training. She is a certified SFG, SFB, FMS, and Battling Ropes instructor.


Karen currently resides in Dallas where she is available for private and group sessions. She is also available worldwide for distance coaching and program design. She travels regularly instructing workshops and StrongFirst Courses and Certifications.


She can be reached at karensmithmsfg@gmail.com or at her blog, Coach Karen Smith.


Karen Smith on Email